Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Inherit the Wind
That trial is the subject of Inherit the Wind, by Jerome Lawrence (b. 1915) and Robert Edwin Lee (1918-1994). The title comes from the Bible: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind," (Proverbs 11:29). The play opened on Broadway in 1955 and won three Tony Awards.
Now, 50 years later, the Cleveland Play House has mounted a stunning production of Inherit the Wind. The script is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s. Here in the twenty-first century, some people are still stewing about creationism and evolution and fearful that they may have descended from a monkey. (It's interesting that recent research indicates that man has more DNA in common with a chimpanzee than a horse does with a zebra. But, that may be the subject of another play.)
For the Cleveland production, Seth Gordon (director) is surrounded by a first-rate technical crew. Charlene Alexis Gross (costume designer) created costumes that are historically accurate and are perfect for rural, poor Tennessee in 1925.
Michael B. Raiford (scenic designer) has designed a courtroom set that generously holds the large cast (including jury) and, when the jury box turns, reveals Hillsboro, Tennessee.
The two attorneys who battle evolution and the Bible are Matthew Harrison Brady (Ed Dixon) and Henry Drummond (Scott Jaeck). The names of many of the characters have been changed from those of the people who were involved in the Scopes trial. The teacher is Bertram Cates (Tom White) and his love interest is Rachel Brown (Sarah Nedwek). In the Lawrence and Lee script, Rachel is the daughter of the Reverend Jeremiah Brown (Mark Alan Gordon). It's the Reverend Brown who, at a prayer meeting for Brady, prays for a curse on Cates and his daughter. Brady intervenes and quotes the scripture from which the playwrights took the title of the play.
E. K. Hornbeck (Scott Plate) is the reporter from Baltimore (H. L. Menken) who brashly comments, not unlike a Greek chorus, on the action of the play. Hornbeck provides insights into Drummond that might not be obvious to audience members who are not aware that Drummond was tagged "the great agnostic."
Lawrence and Lee provide us with an intelligent, involving script. Gordon makes it all work. Gordon directs with a sure, steady insight into the characters and helps the cast bring those unique and well-defined characters to the stage.
Dixon and Jaeck make this script sing like a good, old-fashioned tent revival. Plate creates a character who is witty, catty and capable of cutting to the bone. However, the entire cast works in this engaging ensemble production.
The folks at The Cleveland Play House made a wise choice in selecting Inherit the Wind for this season. As the religious right makes more and more inroads into the political world and as the Creationists continue to deny evolution, Inherit the Wind is as current as today's newspaper and more thought provoking.
Inherit the Wind continues in the Drury Theatre, The Cleveland Playhouse, through November 15. For ticket information, telephone 216-795-7000, ext. 4, or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
The next show for The Cleveland Play House is A Christmas Story. Based on the movie with the same name, this holiday comedy plays November 27 - December 20. The remainder of the season will offer Lost in Yonkers (January 8 - 31, 2010), Ain't Misbehavin' (January 299-February 21), Emma (February 26 - March 21) and Bill W. and Dr. Bob (April 9 - May 2).
Inherit the Wind
- David Ritchey